Sunday, July 06, 2008

Vaughan Roberts, Romans 7 and Intellectual Humility.

Two thumbs up.

My good friend Michael Jensen (and godfather to The Little Man) goes to St Ebbe's Church in Oxford. MPJ recommended his rector's sermon on Romans 7 from March this year. So I downloaded the MP3. It's a message by Vaughan Roberts and the sermon can be listened to by clicking HERE.

I think it is one of the few sermons I've heard on Romans 7 that is intellectually honest with the exegetical difficulties of the chapter. He makes the point that Paul's main reason for writing V7-25 is to answer the charge that the Law is in itself the problem (The subject of my post below). So Roberts keeps the main point, the main point. He says that he is not precisely sure who Paul is referring to in V14-25. So he touches on all the arguments.

In the end, he gives solid application, to each view that is suggested. Not bad for 40 minutes.

The one thing I found hard in listening to the sermons this week was the way in which people quickly dismissed the other side. One preacher said that if you hold the view that this is not Paul as a Christian, it's only because you want to defend Sinless Perfectionism. Or that you have a low view of sin. Which is just plain bunk.

But re Vaughan Roberts: Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Pic on Flickr by Phototropism.


Anonymous said...

"One preacher said that if you hold the view that this is not Paul as a Christian, it's only because you want to defend Sinless Perfectionism."

Yikes. I DON'T think its Paul as a Christian, but that doesn't mean I believe in sinless perfectionism. I completely agree that holiness is a lifelong struggle. But, -as you say, and as Roberts seems to say-, that's not Paul's point in this passage.

Anonymous said...

hi justin, nathan here...

perhaps it is due to the fact that we are currently studying 1 tim that i see some parallels there in rom 7 (i.e. its the only thing i have in short term memory at the moment).

1. is this pre or post conversion paul? My reading is that it is post conversion Paul
a. interesting that in 1 tim 1 paul calls himself the worst of sinners and calls that perception trustworthy and deserving full acceptance. his post conversion name of paul that he chose means "least" ( echoing how he sees himself in corinthians as the least of the apostles, so i think that romans 7 with 1 tim as context, and the grammatical present tense (at least in English) is consistent with his view that he is still vulnerable to sin, even post conversion. I also see parallels between 1 cor 6:11 when Paul tells the Corinthian Church that they were washed and sanctified but in the later letter, 2 Co 7, Paul changes grammatical tenses and says “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates…perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (Very confusing…Sanctified or contaminated or both?) CJ Mahaney writes in some of his books that the Kingdom of God is both "Now and Not Yet." I think the question here is sanctification versus justification? Step 1 according to Paul in Titus, Christ redeems us, Step 2 we are confromed into his image, a people zealous for good works, so that doing the good we want to do (to use romans 7-speak) also a lifelong process but necessarily follows post conversion?

2. Narrow versus broad view of sin
a. One’s views on the scope of sin can definitely color the reading of the text, i take your point
b. Instead of seeing sin as both high and low perhaps Sin is both being and doing?: Interesting that Paul picks on the most subtle of the ten commandments: Coveting. That is a great example of looking at sin as not just a list of infractions but the heart being what it shouldn’t (Iniquity versus transgression, Jer 17). Once might be able to definitely point to post conversion victories against transgressions but against iniquities and wrongful desires, most of us if we are honest will say that post conversion, we still struggle with sinful thoughts and attitudes (have we been anxious or doubtful recently, unforgiveness?) then truly, all of life is repentance in that light?
c. A narrow way of viewing sin is only through its penalty, death and dying/disease. Many reformed authors write of 3 P’s of sin though: Power of sin, and the Presence of Sin, not just its Penalty. In the cross, certainly Christ has paid the penalty of our sin so that per John 3:16 those who believe in him might have life everlasting. But the power of sin (trials and temptation is not yet broken) nor is the presence of sin (front page of any newspaper, local, national or global). This side of the second coming, surely post conversion Christians are still under sin at least in regard to its power and its presence in our lives? Post Millenial camp would beg to differ here?
3. One more paralle to 1 tim 1, Paul interestingly says that law was given for the sake of the rebels not the righteous
a. Perhaps some overlap to Romans 7 that no one can be justified with the law, but with added context of 1 tim, law was given on account of the rebels not the righteous, law necessarily leads to death outside of Christ's intervention?
4. Keller and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
a. His critics often charge that he is watering down scripture to be culturally pertinent in nyc while some say that biblical illiteracy is so rampant that one needs to have a non-scriptural text so nonbelievers don’t get completely lost. His preaching has chronologically evolved into a downplaying and less frequent use of Scripture to more frequent use of literature and pop culture, not sure of any normative conclusions though.

Justin said...

Nathan -- have a listen to the sermon, and let me know what you think.

I have no doubt that Paul sees himself as a sinner (small 's' sinner?). That is clear. And that he has a long way to go. But Romans 7 is more bleak than that. It is saying that he *never* does the right thing, except in his mind. But how does that square with Romans 6 and 8? It is an exegetical conundrum!

I'm not sure what to make of the Penalty, Power and Presence of sin. I'd have to think about that. I'm with you on us being free of the penalty of sin. I think that Romans 6-8 is saying that a baptized believer is free from the power (or controlling grip of sin), but perhaps not the presence of sin. That is, I'm not controlled by sin, but I still sin. And therein lies the challenge: To live according to the Spirit, and not to the flesh. (Romans 8:9 and 8:12). And "sin shall not be your master."

Re Dr Keller. Yes! This is one of his gifts: use of pop and high culture in his communication. I have no problem with that, and would love to be gifted the same way. But Keller used Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde so much that is almost felt like it was the interpretative key to Romans 7. Keller distanced himself from Robinson's character at the end by saying that things are more hopeful than Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde's story. But it was an overuse of a novella. You'd have to listen to the sermon to know what I mean, I think. I could be wrong about that. I was just nervous listening to it.